Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Three owls

Anyone who's read more than one of my posts (Is there anyone?) will probably know that little owls are one of my favourites. I can't resist them and, if I see one it almost invariably goes into the sketchbook or the camera.

Most of the time I like to paint birds as they go about their daily routines, unaware that they are being watched. Often, if viewing through binoculars or a scope, the birds will glance in my direction and decide that I'm far enough away that I don't constitute a threat and they will return to roosting or preening, safe in the knowledge that they could fly away in plenty of time if the situation demanded it. Just occasionally though it's nice to paint that point of contact with a bird, that moment of recognition and silent communication. This guy was perched in a yew tree behind the churchyard in Hucking. I'd stopped a good distance from the tree and scanned it with my binoculars and was lucky enough to spot the light patch of the owl's feathers where the sun reflected off of them. The owl had obviously seen me long before I'd seen him and he was watching intently. No binoculars needed! He didn't move off but he kept glancing at me, just literally keeping one eye on what I was up to, and what an eye!

This little painting is a bit of a landmark for me too because it is the first wildlife painting that I have completed in oils. I've enjoyed the paints and may use them in preference to acrylics in the future, I suppose that will depend on how well the next oil painting goes!

Owls as a group are so gorgeous to me that I sometimes wonder if I should call myself an owl artist who paints other wildlife from time to time. They are certainly a recurring theme in my work. They are not always the easiest of creatures to see though and despite knowing where there is a long eared owl roost it took literally years before I was able to spot this one. Long eared owl had become something of what birders call a 'bogey bird' for me. When I eventually did find him though he seemed content to pose for me almost as if I'd paid him! He was either confident that his camouflage was good enough to hide him or he was just too damn tired to move as his eyes barely opened beyond much more than a slit in all the time I watched him. Useful to me because I had plenty of time to do a detailed sketch which later became a painting.

Of course an owl's life is not all sleeping and roosting and another type of encounter that always thrills is one with a hunting owl. Using sketches done during my hour in a ditch back in May I wanted to show a barn owl hunting in territory familiar to me where I've often seen barn owls. In the early morning the sun is low enough in the sky that it lights up the feathery seed heads of the phragmite beds around the coastal marshes of Elmley and Oare. When a barn owl floats into the scene between the viewer and the sun it sometimes appears outlined in pure, white light an effect known as contre-jour, which is a French phrase meaning literally 'against the day'. A barn owl's body plumage is light enough that it will retain some detail even in these conditions, picking up reflected light from the ground and some of the light that filters through the translucent wing feathers. It is a beautiful and fleeting effect that artists have often exploited and one that I hope I've managed to capture some of in the painting 'Low light, low flight, highlight'.


PG said...

Oh lovely work! And I've learned something new (contre-jour). There is something extra special about seeing an owl, though unlike you I've never captured one in photo (well, only a very blurred one!)

Charlotte said...

Lovely, Lovely, Lovely. They are my favourite birds and your pictures of them are gorgeous. Although we live in the middle of Nottingham we are lucky enough to have a pair of tawny's nesting in our local park. Sometimes we are privileged enough to be visited by silent winged flight over head. On one memorable occasion one of the pair sat on our neighbours shed and inspected us over it's shoulder.

Your painting of the little owl just captures it perfectly, thank you for sharing it.

Jo said...

I certainly read your blogs, when you write them that is!!! Love the pics and had never heard the phrase contre-jour before. I don't think I have ever seen an owl very closely other than in a zoo/park, but we used to get one flying overhead when we lived in NC and it made a big shadow sweeping past - a great horned owl.

Sue said...

Yes, you do have readers out here, I have read lots more than one post :-) Owls are so beautiful, it is always magical and hugely exciting to see even a glimpse of one. We have tawnys in and around our garden but I rarely see other types. Just the thought of my few fleeting glimpses of barn owls still sets my heart racing.

Mike Woodcock said...

Thanks guys. Owls are wonderful creatures, it's difficult to believe that they are considered birds of ill omen in so many cultures.

Gabriele said...

You now...I love the way you paint...wonderful work here

greetings from Germany

Mike Woodcock said...

Thank you Gabriele